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A Missionary Conflict for Posterity

Dear friends,

 

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned…” (Gal 2:11)

When Simon Peter journeyed to Antioch, he must have discovered a reality different from his ministry context in Jerusalem and Judea. The leadership there was multi-cultural (Acts 13:1) and the make-up of the church appears to have been predominantly Gentiles.

Peter was familiar, of course, with the passion of new believers and the excitement that accompanies their incorporation into the church. He had seen many thousands brought into the kingdom in Jerusalem and Judea (Acts 21:20). Those thousands were Jews, zealous for the law.

Make no mistake, Peter understood perfectly that Jesus’ kingdom extended to the Gentiles. That vision of a sheet lowered from heaven provided a lesson Peter would never forget. He understood that God doesn’t play favorites (Acts 10:34).

So what was the problem? What caused Peter to withdraw from table fellowship with the Gentiles?

It was the arrival of some of the brethren from Judea. Apparently, these Christ-followers of Jewish background held to their pre-conditioned assumptions. The shape of the new thing had not sufficiently displaced their old reality. Their old wine-skins had not yet burst…and Peter was their pastor, their apostle. The pressure must have been great because even Barnabas was led astray (Gal 2:13).

So Peter, the rock, let himself be squeezed into their mold. He held himself aloof from the Gentile believers and ate only with the Jews.

Well, tenacious Paul, with not a hint of concern for the Jerusalem pecking order, springs into action, rebuking the leader of the twelve to his face. For Paul, breaking table fellowship over the issue of ethnicity (including language, culture, religious background, etc.) violated the very heart of the gospel. He would not tolerate it.

For us who live in the contemporary atmosphere of the immigration ban and many other expressions of ethnic tension, the lesson is that the gospel does not merely include and embrace other ethnicities and cultures. The gospel, by its very nature, must include and embrace all ethnicities and cultures. Therefore, the church (our churches) must include and embrace all ethnicities and cultures. Anything less is sub-gospel, or perhaps even anti-gospel.

The Last Supper with Twelve Tribes by Hyatt Moore

Paul’s passionate rebuke of Peter means that the inclusion of the nations is more than a “nice outcome.” It is at the core of the gospel! It is an imperative, not an option. If every Christ-follower is not of equal value at the foot of the cross, then it is not the real deal. Paul is prepared to go to the mat for this. The same conviction pours out again and again in his letters. “The dividing wall is broken down.” The true children of Abraham are those who share the faith of Abraham. There must be no distinction.

But there is another lesson not to be missed. Before Peter bids good-bye to this world, he pens his own epistles in which he makes a passing reference to Paul.

Notice the deference: Peter reasons that Paul’s letters contain many things that are hard to understand which the “ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). Peter could have taken one last jab, right? He could have said “Paul makes simple things hard to understand, so leave it to me (i.e. the “real apostle”) to make it clear.” No. For Peter, Paul’s writings are on the same level as other Scripture. They are worth the struggle to understand and defend against unstable minds.

Peter’s journey to Antioch held a tough rebuke for him. But he must have accepted it with grace, without a hint of bitterness towards Paul. No vindictiveness. No veiled self-promotion at the expense of a fellow apostle.

It was a missionary conflict for posterity. The apostles left us with two gems of authentic servant-leadership. Paul gives us the all-nations determination of the gospel and Peter gives us the authenticity and humility of a true shepherd of the sheep. He accepted correction. We, the church, would do well to ensure that we also build on that apostolic foundation.

By Mike Kuhn, World Outreach ITEN Missional Theology Specialist

Community Life

SMJ: Sacramento

Registration for SMJ: Sacramento has been extended until February 15! Learn more about this mission trip for high school students on our website.

Finding Hagar

If you have a heart for displaced people, we’d encourage you to read Mike’s book, Finding Hagar. In it is a powerful “reminder of God’s abundant grace towards all people at a time when there is much division and animosity towards the descendants of Hagar.”

Understanding Muslims

There are many resources avaliable on our website that offer opportunities to learn more about God’s heart for our Muslim neighbors and dispel myths about Islam.

Fueled by Wonder | December 2019

Dear friends,

The story of Jesus’ life on earth begins and ends with people looking up into the sky.

“Behold there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and are come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?” (Acts 1:11)

It is often said that Christmas is a time of wonder. And there is, indeed, much about Christmas that is wonderful. But there is danger too – the danger of getting stuck in the wonder instead of letting it fuel action. That was the warning of the two angels at Jesus’ ascension. The disciples had been given a job to do – to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth – and it would not get done by looking up into the sky.

The festival of Epiphany comes twelve days after Christmas and commemorates the manifestation of God to the nations as represented by wise men from the East. One of the most striking aspects of the epiphany story is that the Magi, after seeing an amazing astrological event, did so much more than just wonder. They cleared their calendars, reworked their budgets, and launched out on a long, expensive, difficult journey. Their seeing resulted in going. 

On Christmas Day, 1622, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (the general editor of the King James bible) preached a sermon on the Magi, pointing out how much inertia they had to overcome to begin their journey:

“Last, we consider the time of their coming, the season of the year. It was no summer progress. A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off, in solsitio brumali, ‘the very dead of winter.'”

Sharp-eyed readers will recognize T.S. Eliot’s quotation of Bishop Andrewes’ sermon almost verbatim in his great poem “Journey of the Magi”.

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins,
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had though they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death. 

May we all experience the wonder of Christmas again in these days, but may it not stop there. Fueled by wonder, let us be about the task Christ gave us – being his witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Your gifts help reach the world for Christ. Consider supporting our workers as they witness and serve among people with little to no access to the gospel.

Look to The Rock from Which You Were Hewn | October 2019

Dear friends,

In one of the darkest days of the people of Israel, the Lord spoke through Isaiah…

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.  Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him.”  Isaiah 51:1-2

What does it mean to be ‘hewn’?  To be hewn is to be given identity, shape, form.  And what or who is the rock?  The big ‘r’ Rock is God, of course—God our Rock, our Father, by whom we have been created and have our identity (Deut 32:18) and Christ ‘the spiritual Rock’ (1 Cor 10:4).  Also, the metaphor of the rock is extended from the person of Christ to his words and the revelation of who he is (Mt 7:24; 16:18).  Our Rock is a Gentile-reaching, cross-bearing rock.

But Isaiah 51 identifies Abraham and Sarah as a rock, too: ‘Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you’ (v2).  They are Israel’s father and mother in the faith—a human father and mother (Rom 4:12,16).

So, while our faith is ultimately in God the Rock, the very object of our faith and source of our identity, shape, and form; it is also true, in some sense, that we have in Abraham a tradition of faith and source of identity that is a secondary ‘rock’, a little ‘r’ rock, from which we are hewn.  By extension, we have this also in other human godly church fathers, like Paul, Augustine, or Luther.

As Presbyterians celebrating Reformation Day and as EPC folks who have declared intentions to be missions-focused, let us consider the rock from which we have been hewn, in terms of our church’s founding and tradition.  That includes John Calvin, one of many Reformed churchmen in our heritage.  And let us take to heart the following powerful missions commitments evidenced in John Calvin’s writings.  Perhaps they will help us shake off the dust of unhealthy traditionalism and misconceptions about what it really means to be Presbyterian or Reformed.

John Calvin to his arrested missionaries:
“Since it please him [God] to employ you to the death in maintaining his quarrel [with the world], he will strengthen your hands in the fight, and will not suffer a single drop of your blood to be spent in vain.  And though the fruit may not all at once appear, yet in time it shall spring up more abundantly than we can express.”

John Calvin commenting on Augustine:
‘”For as we do not know who belongs to the number of the predestined or who does not belong, we ought to be so minded as to wish that all men be saved.’ So shall it come about that we try to make every one we meet a sharer in our peace.”

John Calvin commenting on Isaiah 2:3:
“And indeed nothing could be more inconsistent with the nature of faith than that deadness which would lead a man to disregard his brethren, and to keep the light of knowledge choked up within his own breast.”

May we be inspired anew from the rock of our traditions, to do as John Calvin and the Reformed movement did, …

  1. to send missionaries to hard places, even where they face imprisonment and martyrdom, while pastorally and prayerfully submitting it all to God.
  2. to try to make everyone we meet a sharer in our peace.
  3. to not keep the light of the gospel choked up inside of us.
  4. to rise in faith knowing that the missions fruit we seek will in time “spring up more abundantly than we can express”. (See also Gen 12:1-3 and Is 51:3.)

Is this not the rock from which you and I were hewn?

This World Outreach Reflection on Reformation Day is by Bruce Anderson, EPC World Outreach ITEN Founder & Coordinator

Note: The first two quotations of Calvin are quoted from Haykins and Roberston, To the Ends of the Earth, 2014, p. 59.

 

Community Life

To the Ends of the Earth

If you are interested in learning more about the role of the Reformed tradition in spreading the gospel, Haykin and Robertson’s book, To the Ends of the Earth is a great starting point.

A Presbyterian Mandate

Read this free book by Frontiers founder and EPC WO global worker, Greg Livingstone. In this book, Greg challenges us to rededicate ourselves to our foundational calling: taking the gospel to those people and places that have no access to the Good News. This is available as a free pdf.

Calvin and World Missions

Download this free resource from World Reformed Fellowship that has collected articles from 1882-2002 on Calvin’s role in establishing mission theology. Interested in sharing the quotes from the Anderson’s reflection with your congregation? Download these slides and pictures – each to slip into a bulletin.

A Great Barrier to Evangelism | June 2019

Dear friends,

During my first trip to India I taught a course on the five solas of the Reformation. The national leaders who organized the event had reserved the upper room of a Catholic charity for the day and filled it with plastic lawn chairs. As I arrived early, I entered the hot and humid room to find several adults and their children sleeping on the concrete floor. After backing out of the room quietly I notified our national partners, who simply smiled. “They were so concerned that they might miss the teaching, they took a train here last night.” It is a moment I will never forget, and it is one that I speak about often as I try to help others understand the enormous need for theological education around the globe.

            At the very inception of the modern missionary enterprise, theological education and ministerial training have always been foundational values of global evangelization. From the historic 1910 World Missionary Conference in Scotland to the Third Lausanne Congress held a century later in Cape Town, South Africa, missionaries and scholars alike have long agreed that “The promotion of theological education is a life and death issue for Christianity.”

Recognizing such a need, Presbyterians in particular have often taken a lead role in the sphere of Christian education in global missions. From Ralph Winter’s groundbreaking and innovative Theological Education by Extension (TEE) program to more modern enterprises such as Richard Pratt’s Third Millennium Ministries, a Reformed perspective on global missions has often ensured a strong commitment to the holistic practice of ministering to the whole person – body, spirit, and mind.

      Sharing this same commitment, the EPC World Outreach charged Rev. Dr. Bruce Anderson with the task of forming The International Theological Education Network (ITEN) in 2010 with the goal of fulfilling the denomination’s commitment to full-cycle church planting – planting churches among the unreached who will plant churches among the unreached. Towards this end ITEN has had the privilege of watching the light of the knowledge of God to some of the most remote parts of the world including Pakistan, Siberia, Vietnam, and Myanmar.

            In each of these places we continue to hear the same refrain that while technology and globalization are making more education available to more people than ever before, it is still insufficient for the growing need. Time and time again we hear from national leaders that the greatest barrier to evangelism is not radical or fundamentalist forms of religion, but false teachers who are making it increasingly hard for people to know the difference between the gospel of health and wealth and the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is why the EPC continues to affirm that any vision for church planting is futile without the simultaneous training of leaders. As Makie Stiles stated recently at The Gospel Coalition 2019 national conference, “If you don’t know what a church is, you’re going to have a very hard time planting one.” Such is the conviction of ITEN and the EPC World Outreach who are eager to continue to embody the historical vision of global missions first given to us by Christ himself: make disciples and teach them (Matt. 28:19).

*Detrich Werner, ed. Challenges and Opportunities in Theological Education in the 21st Century(Edinburgh 2010: International study group on theological education, World Study Report, 2009), 81

By Dr. Steve Woodworth, ITEN Associate Coordinator

 

Community Life

ITEN Overview

Have 5 minutes? Watch this informative introductory video to ITEN and learn about their mission, vision, and strategies as a ministry arm of EPC World Outreach.

Mission Resources

Interested in the role of the North American Church or methods of church planting? Check out our Missions and Church Planting resource pages for  information and suggestions on these topics and more!

Third Millennium Ministries

Visit Thirdmill’s website to learn more about their mission to provide free biblical education throughout the world. In addition to an abundance of resources on theology and worship, they have free seminary courses available, for those interested!